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The Apology


38c - 42a

Summary 38c - 42a


After Socrates' brief and rather flippant request for the death penalty to be commuted, the jury votes to put Socrates to death. This time, the margin is greater--over two thirds--in contrast to the narrow margin that found Socrates guilty. Socrates now makes his final address to the jury before being led off to prison.

He warns those that sentenced him that they will hereafter be blamed for putting a wise man to death. If only they had had a little patience, he suggests, he would have died without their help; after all, he already an old man of seventy. He reflects that perhaps he might have saved himself by saying whatever was necessary to secure his acquittal, of weeping or appealing to the jury's mercy. However, he has not done so for lack of ingenuity, but for lack of impudence: he would be disgracing himself and the court if he were to make such appeals. The difficulty, as he sees it, is not to outrun death, but to outrun wickedness, which is a far more dogged pursuer. Socrates accepts that he has been outrun by death, but points out that, unlike him, his accusers have been outrun by wickedness. While he has been condemned to death by a human jury, his accusers have been convicted of depravity and injustice by no less a tribunal than Truth herself. He is happier accepting his sentence than theirs, and considers this to be a fair sentence.

He finishes his address to those who voted against him with a stern prophecy. Though they may have managed to silence him in the hopes that they can continue to live free of criticism, he will be replaced by even more critics who until now have kept silent. Socrates warns his accusers that in order to live free of criticism, one must behave well rather than stop the mouths of one's critics.

Socrates then addresses those who voted to acquit him, to reconcile themselves to his fate. He remarks that the divine voice that often warns him against harmful actions has remained silent throughout the trial and throughout his own speech. From this he concludes that perhaps death is a blessing, since his sign would have opposed him unless his actions were to bring about a good result. After all, Socrates reasons, death is either annihilation--a complete and final sleep--or death is a transmigration, where his soul would live on somewhere else. If death is annihilation, it is to be looked forward to as we would look forward to a deep, restful sleep. On the other hand, if death is a transmigration to some sort of afterlife, that afterlife will be populated by all the great figures of the past, from Homer to Odysseus. Socrates remarks how delightful it would be to pass amongst these great figures, questioning them regarding their wisdom.

The conclusion Socrates reaches, then, is that the good man has nothing to fear either in this life or the next. He denies any grudge against his accusers, even though they seek his life, and asks his friends to look after his three sons and to make sure that they always put goodness above money or other earthly trappings. Socrates concludes with the famous phrase: "Well, now it is time to be off, I to die and you to live; but which of us has the happier prospect is unknown to anyone but God" (42a).


We find another interesting application of Socratic irony in Socrates' assertion that he would be showing impudence if he were to weep and beg for mercy. To the jury, he would have been showing impudence by not doing so and defiantly maintaining his position. The fact is, Socrates does show impudence to the court, but this kind of impudence is of little value or interest to Socrates. When he speaks of impudence, he refers to impudence before the much higher tribunals of Truth and goodness. He would be compromising his dignity and his duty to truth if he were to so debase himself. Socrates then is ultimately condemned by this jury because he does not speak to them, but to the truth. His moral position in general is one of always trying to be just and honest rather than to please his fellow person, knowing that even if he irritates others, he is ultimately doing them good by living justly and truthfully.